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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Combat Clips: A Selection of OEF/OIF Veteran Statistics, July 2009

I'm always on the look-out for veteran-related stats, and I imagine that many of you are, too. In March 2007, I compiled a master list of data culled from news reports and studies; The War List: OEF/OIF Statistics quickly became (and remains) one of the most popular pages on this blog.

Unfortunately, I haven't had as much time as I'd like these past couple of years to return to it and overhaul it with fresh data. Until that can be done properly and fully, I'll begin occasionally saving and sharing some of the facts and figures I stumble upon during my research that I'd like to ferret away. Welcome to the first dose of random Combat Clips.

As 'cold' and sterile as a sea of numbers can be -- because, of course, the reality is that there is a warm body and full life attached to each of those figures -- taking a broad overview has its merits, too. So, let's get started, shall we?

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.

A July 2, 2009, Los Angeles Times op-ed by Linda J. Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz is worth a full read. Important numbers:

Tuesday, [June 30, 2009,] the U.S. "stood down" in Iraq, finalizing the pullout of 140,000 troops from Iraqi cities and towns -- the first step on the long path home. ...

The death toll for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan reached 5,000 in June. An additional 80,000 Americans have been wounded or injured since the war in Iraq began. More than 300,000 of our troops have required medical treatment, and Army statistics show that more than 17% of our returning soldiers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. ...

According to the Brookings Institution's Iraq Index, 2 million people -- largely from the middle class by most accounts -- fled Iraq during the war, but only a handful have returned. (The vast majority of Iraq's doctors, lawyers and other professionals are now living abroad, and many are seeking asylum.) An additional 2.7 million "internal" refugees -- 10% of the population -- abandoned their homes, and most are too frightened to go back. ...

By our accounting, the U.S. has already spent $1 trillion on operations and related defense spending, with more to come -- and it will cost perhaps $2 trillion more to repay the war debt, replenish military equipment and provide care and treatment for U.S. veterans back home. ...

The U.S. has 240,000 contractors working in the two war theaters -- but the Pentagon's oversight of independent contractors remains lax. The Army Criminal Investigation Command -- which just a few weeks ago brought fraud charges against a contractor responsible for supplying our troops with bulletproof vests -- is woefully understaffed, with fewer than 100 people to investigate billions of dollars in alleged war profiteering.

Michelle Tan and Rick Maze, Army Times:

Congress is on the verge of authorizing the Army to grow by 30,000 active soldiers to reduce the strain of deployments — but whether that increase would be permanent remains in question. Also undetermined: how to pay for costs that could top $8 billion in just three years. The extra troops would make up for the number of non-deployable soldiers with mental or physical injuries, legal troubles, or those near the end of their service obligations.

A temporary increase would help the Army weather the next 18 months, during which time troop demands in Afghanistan are increasing faster than requirements in Iraq are easing up. ...The Congressional Budget Office estimates that a temporary 30,000-soldier increase beginning in 2011 would add $2 billion the first year, $4 billion in 2012 and $2 billion in 2013. ...

Congress’ push to add troops comes just two months after Gates announced the Army will halt its growth of brigade combat teams at 45, three fewer than planned. That decision, announced April 6, was supposed to help the Army “thicken” existing brigades and eliminate stop-loss, the practice of holding soldiers beyond the end of their enlistments or retirement dates until their units complete a deployment.

The Army is now manning 43 BCTs, building the 44th at Fort Bliss, Texas, and preparing to build the 45th brigade combat team in spring 2010, also at Fort Bliss. But the decision not to build the last three planned BCTs — one each at Fort Stewart, Ga., Fort Carson, Colo., and Fort Bliss — has stunned those communities, which had banked on the Army’s plan.

Last week's story that the Department of Defense is moving toward a possible ban on cigarette smoking in the military (to be phased in over a span of one or two decades) received a lot of negative feedback from vets when I posted it to my facebook profile -- not surprising, as over 2,000 comments have been left at the original article, too.

Today, a quick about face from the Pentagon on the issue. The stats in the original piece by Gregg Zoroya, USA Today, are still well worth hanging onto for future reference:

One in three servicemembers use tobacco, the report says, compared with one in five adult Americans. The heaviest smokers are soldiers and Marines, who have done most of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the study says. About 37% of soldiers use tobacco and 36% of Marines. Combat veterans are 50% more likely to use tobacco than troops who haven't seen combat.

Tobacco use costs the Pentagon $846 million a year in medical care and lost productivity, says the report, which used older data. The Department of Veterans Affairs spends up to $6 billion in treatments for tobacco-related illnesses, says the study, which was released late last month. ...

The military complicates attempts to curb tobacco use by subsidizing tobacco products for troops who buy them at base exchanges and commissaries, says Kenneth Kizer, a committee member and architect of California's anti-tobacco program. Seventy percent of profits from tobacco sales — $88 million in 2005 — pays for recreation and family support programs, the study stays.

Bryan Bender, Boston Globe:

As more women serve in combat zones, the share of female veterans who end up homeless, while still relatively small at an estimated 6,500, has nearly doubled over the last decade, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. For younger veterans, it is even more pronounced: One out of every 10 homeless vets under the age of 45 is now a woman, the statistics show. ...

Overall, female veterans are now between two and four times more likely to end up homeless than their civilian counterparts, according to the VA, most as a result of the same factors that contribute to homelessness among male veterans: mental trauma related to their military service and difficulty transitioning into the civilian economy. ...

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, a nonpartisan advocacy group in Washington, about 23 percent of the homeless population in the United States are veterans. Nearly half are from the Vietnam era and three-fourths experience some type of alcohol, drug, or mental heath problem. Most of the homeless vets, who are estimated by the Veteran’s Administration to number at least 130,000 on any given night nationwide, are men older than 50.

With a new generation of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan leaving the armed forces, however, the demographics are swiftly changing. And with more women serving on active duty - a full 15 percent of the military is now female - the share of female homeless veterans has grown from about 3 percent a decade ago to 5 percent, according to the VA.

Paul Thissen, Contra Costa [CA] Times:

As of 2007, the Military Health System had recorded 43,779 patients with traumatic brain injuries from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It had recorded 39,365 patients with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, according to a Department of Defense report to Congress.

By the end of September 2008, the number of patients with a preliminary diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from Veterans Affairs doctors had risen to 101,882 — more than 10 percent of veterans who have left the military and more than 20 percent of those who have gone to Veterans Affairs for medical treatment, according to a spokeswoman for Veterans Affairs.

More recent statistics on traumatic brain injuries were not available.

William H. McMichael, Military Times:

The Army, the largest service, has seen an especially large increase in suicides this year. Through May, the Army reported 82 possible suicides, with 45 confirmed, according to the Pentagon. During the first five months of 2008, the Army reported 51 suicides.

And on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that military children sought mental health care 2 million times last year — twice the number who did so at the outset of the Iraq war. AP also reported that the number of children and military spouses of active-duty and reserve personnel has been steadily increasing.

PTSD is nothing new. Brian Albrecht, Cleveland Plain Dealer:

PTSD, more commonly associated with the war in Vietnam and the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, is showing up in veterans whose fighting days may be long gone but are far from forgotten.

The Department of Veterans Affairs' National Center for PTSD estimated that 1 in 20 of the nation's 2.5 million surviving World War II vets suffers from the disorder. That figure may be low, according to Dr. Edgardo Padin-Rivera, chief of psychology at the Louis Stokes Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Brecksville, who said more than 30 percent of World War II combat veterans might be affected. ...

A 2007-08 study at the university that looked at 78 veterans, age 60 and older, being treated for depression found that 38 percent of them had significant PTSD symptoms.

PTSD affects about 30 percent of Vietnam veterans, 10 percent of Desert Storm vets, upwards of 20 percent of those who served in Iraq and 11 percent of Afghanistan combatants, according to the national PTSD center. ...Nationally, PTSD has affected 23 percent (92,998) of Iraq and Afghanistan vets seeking care at the VA from 2002 to 2008.

Number of veterans by war receiving PTSD compensation from the Veterans Benefits Administration for end of fiscal 2008:

World War II: 24,145
Korean Conflict: 12,381
Vietnam War: 229,682
Iraq/Afghanistan: 55,000

Will Hoover, Honolulu Advertiser:

A soldier wounded in World War II had a 67.8 percent chance of survival, according to Department of Defense statistics. By the time of the Vietnam War, those chances had climbed to 86.5 percent.

Today, with 120,000 soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the survival rate has soared to 97 percent, said Bob Moore, chief of the Strategic Communications Division of the Warrior Transition Command in Virginia.

The Warrior transition units are part of the new military order, which strives to keep injured soldiers in the service whenever possible, Moore said.

"At least 16,000 soldier have been through the units since we began this process in the middle of 2007," said Moore, who stressed that 52 percent of those soldiers have returned to active duty.

Data from across the pond via The Press Association:

Research suggests that veterans aged 18 to 23 are up to three times more likely to commit suicide than civilians. More veterans of the UK's Falklands campaign and first Gulf War are believed to have killed themselves after quitting the forces than died in action. Some 255 were killed during the Falklands conflict, but an estimated 264 of troops who survived have since committed suicide.

The Gulf War claimed the lives of 24 British soldiers, but a Government study last year suggested that 169 veterans had died of "intentional self harm" or in circumstances that led to open verdicts at inquests.

I'd like to close this edition with a heartfelt thanks to each of the reporters listed above. Thank you for your talented hand(s) in helping to educate us on these vital national issues.

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